Dictionaries are one of the most useful resources you have at your disposal. For the times that you spend studying alone, they are the closest that you can get to having a teacher in the room with you. But their use is not without its pitfalls, and there are a few tricks that you need to know to get the most out of this valuable resource, whether you use an online dictionary or a traditional one in book form. Below we give you five tips (astuces) for using your dictionary.
Tip 1: don’t just take the first translation you see
The first rule of using a dictionary is not to automatically go for the first word that you are given. This can sometimes get you into trouble. For example, many dictionaries (Reverso, for instance) will give you “efficient” as the first translation of French efficace, but this meaning of the word has little use in prépa. You need to read the notes that Reverso provides and you will see that next to “efficient” is the note [personne]; if you want to talk about an action, as you most often will in prépa, the correct translation is “effective”:
The thing to take away from this is that you need to read the explanations and notes that dictionaries give you; don’t just assume the first entry is the word you need.
Tip 2: pay attention to the notes in the dictionary
Related to the point above, you need to understand the notes and symbols that dictionaries use. For example, many prépa students in their essays and colles talk about “informations”. However, if you look for the translation of renseignements on WordReference you will notice the note (uncountable), which translates indénombrable, meaning that this word cannot take an “s” at the end. Paper dictionaries often use the symbol [U] to denote an uncountable word (these dictionaries explain all the symbols
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